Rosh ha-Shanah message to my community 5780

Well, the year is about to finish. Thank God for that! And that is the good news.

The bad news is that the next year is promising to be as eventful as the previous for both our country and the world. If your personal year has been as eventful (hopefully mostly with celebrations and joyful occasions) then you may do well with the ten days between Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur to switch yourself off from the world and take a ten day break from the news. The time for a joyous celebration of Rosh ha-Shanah is approaching and so is Heshbon Nefesh – accounting for your soul during the ten days of Repentance with its culmination on Yom Kippur, when we will be standing before the Eternal One both as individuals and as a community.

We, as a community, reflect in some ways the state of our country today: deeply divided on various issues, including of course, Brexit. Luckily, one of the things which unites us all is being Jewish! It also means that we all share the Jewish values of compassion, loving-kindness and shalom ha-bait (the principle of compromising and making up with people who wrong you for the sake of peace).

Often, listening to different conversations, I feel like the rabbi in the following story: two Jews went to their rabbi to solve a disagreement between them. The rabbi listened very carefully to the first visitor and said at the end of the conversation – you are right. Then, he listened carefully to the second visitor and said at the end of their conversation – you are right. When the two Jews left the house, the wife asked the rabbi: how could both of them be right?! The rabbi looked at his wife and said: and you are right too! Our modern world and our society are so complex that often there isn’t one definitive way to solve our manifold problems.

What has often been lacking from our many debates is tolerance; the fundamental Jewish principle of agreeing to disagree, respecting another person’s right to hold an opposite opinion to our own. Regardless of where we are on various issues including Brexit, modern Anti-Semitism, climate change and the NHS, each of us will deal with the consequences of them.  Only the future will prove who was right and who wasn’t, but the truth is most likely to be everyone. And without a doubt, whatever happens in the future, we will be dealing with the consequences of it together. 

So this means putting aside our differences and making the next year the year of tolerance and friendship. As Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus said in Pirkei Avot 2:10: “Let your friend’s honour be as dear to you as your own; do not become angry easily; and repent one day before your death.” We leave our anger and hasty judgements of each other in the year which is about to finish, and bring with us into the New Year respect, tolerance and compassion for each other.

Shana Tova u-Metuka – I wish you a good, happy and a healthy New Year!

Rabbi Tanya